Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

Childhood memories

March 15, 2007

Alice Smith Dow, 1854-1943, was one of De Soto's early residents, moving to what she described as a village in 1860 when her father, the Rev. W.H. Smith, became the town's first minister. He was later responsible for the construction of Stone Church at 84th and Peoria streets. The family lived a quarter-mile west of homes and businesses hugging the Kansas River at what is now 85th Street and Penner Avenue.

In conjunction with the De Soto sesquicentennial, this is the third installment of Dow's 1940 recollections to appear in The Explorer.

I often went with father on Saturday afternoons, as he drove to Olathe or Gardner to his preaching assignments. We did not follow section lines or turn square fence corners, or even roads. In many places, there were no roads. We drove where it seemed best going down long, grassy hills, across tumbling little streams, with old General (the horse) taking a bite now and then from some roadside tidbit, and father humming a tune as he thought of his next day's sermon.

The winds flew across those wide spaces and we children had fun chasing the dry tumbleweeds, some as large as a washtub. I had not seen them for years until in western Kansas, where they were piled up against the wire fences for miles.

Oh, those happy days of childhood! I did not half appreciate them then. But the farther away they recede into the past, the more enchanting they become.

Indian encounters

We saw Indians for the first time as we entered De Soto, there being a reservation for the Delaware on the north side of the river and for the Shawnee on the south, somewhere near Eudora, I think.

My father built his house about half a mile west of De Soto, and the trail over the hills to the Indian camp ran just between our house and barn, where they traveled at any hour of the day or night. It was a very narrow trail, just wide enough for a single person or pony. They always walked single-file -- with their toes turned in -- the squaws padding along on foot, carrying a papoose, or bundles, and the braves on ponies.

We were often visited by wandering, begging Indians from other tribes, such as the Sioux and Kaws from the north. They were blanket Indians, and we were very much afraid of them. Father and mother had gone one day to a donation party given at the schoolhouse for the Methodist minister. Now, for the benefit of those who never attended such a party, I will explain that it is a gathering of people who bring cake, pies and other good things to eat. Beside these, a greater number came to sit themselves down to eat, and the fragments that were left over were given to the minister.

On this particular day, my brother, about 9 years old, and myself, around 7, were left at home. We played about for a while, and all at once saw two Indians, with shaved heads and feathers stuck in their calflocks, coming toward the house, carrying bows and arrows. They wore blankets on their back, had leggings and moccasins. We locked the doors, pulled down the curtains and climbed into mother's bed, where we lay shivering under the covers.

Indians never knock at doors but walk right in. They tried them and, when they found them locked, tried to open the windows. Although terribly scared, we thought we'd better show ourselves. So, we went to the window. They made signs for us to let them in and showed a paper they had. But we shook our heads, and they finally left. In a little while, mother came. The Indians had gone to the donation party, and when mother saw them, she had visions of my brother and me murdered and scalped. She was surely happy to find us safe and sound, and took us back with her. So we got to the party, after all.

When we got there, the Indians had been fed and were shooting at five cent pieces, which the men had placed on the stump of a tree. There were no nickels in those days.

The agent for the Shawnees was afterward at De Soto. Major Abbott being the agent. Whiskey was sold to them there, and I remember a very fat, old Indian by the name of Matthew King, who drove a team of ponies. He was a hard drinker and one night, going back to his home just across the Johnson County line, he was thrown out on a rocky hill and killed.

While the river bottom has been almost stripped of trees, and fine farms and farm houses now occupy the spaces where the forest grew, yet the trees have grown up in other places. The road on the east side of Kill Creek was once plainly visible from my father's house, and we could see people and wagons coming into town, but it is now hidden by large trees.

Dangerous times

I shall never forget the sickening terror with which we watched a company of soldiers coming along that way during the Civil War. A report came that it was rebels under General Price. All the little border towns had been raided except De Soto, and we were expecting our turn would come. Rumors often came that war was expected. At one time all the people from town went into camp in the woods west of the village, where the population was increased by one the next morning. We were living a half a mile west of the city, so did not join the exodus. However, my father and one or two of his neighbors slept out in the hills back of our place for many nights. All of our most valuable possessions were hidden trunks and boxes outside the house. But mother would let us get some of our best clothes out for Sunday.

De Soto was on the road between Fort Scott and Fort Leavenworth, so that the government trains of six-mule wagons and companies of soldiers were often passing and sometimes camped overnight at the Stratton place. Being so near the border, we never knew when our old dog Rover barked whether we might expect friends or foes.

My father went with Major Abbott to Lawrence the day before the Quantrill raid, stopping at the Eldridge House, where he was locked inside with others. The hotel was set on fire by the raiders, but they were released and made to stand in line on Massachusetts Street, where every alternate man was shot. The cemetery in Lawrence has a monument in memory of the 150 citizens who lost their lives on that dark day.

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